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Information-based distortion methods have been used successfully in the analysis of neural coding problems. These approaches allow the discovery of neural symbols and the corresponding stimulus space of a neuron or neural ensemble quantitatively, while making few assumptions about the nature of either the code or of relevant stimulus features. The neural codebook is derived by quantizing sensory stimuli and neural responses into a small set of clusters, and optimizing the quantization to minimize an information distortion function. The method of annealing has been used to solve the corresponding high-dimensional nonlinear optimization problem. The annealing solutions undergo a series of bifurcations, which we study using bifurcation theory in the presence of symmetries. In this contribution we describe these symmetry breaking bifurcations in detail, and indicate some of the consequences of the form of the bifurcations. In particular, we show that the annealing solutions break symmetry at pitchfork bifurcations, and that subcritical branches can exist. Thus, at a subcritical bifurcation, there are local information distortion solutions which are not found by the method of annealing. Since the annealing procedure is guaranteed to converge to a local solution eventually, the subcritical branch must turn and become optimal at some later saddle-node bifurcation, which we have shown occur generically for this class of problems. This implies that the rate distortion curve, while convex for noninformation-based distortion measures, is not convex for information-based distortion methods.
Date of Publication: Feb. 2010